Denied

Sorry, Mrs. Jackson: How the King of Pop’s Mother Lost Her Billion-Dollar Lawsuit

There will be no billion-dollar payout for Michael Jackson’s mother in the death of her son. Diane Dimond on what the verdict means for the family—and the custody drama still brewing.

10.03.13 12:25 AM ET

After hearing five months of testimony in the complicated trial of the Jackson family versus AEG, the jury took just 13 hours to reach a verdict.   

At the beginning of the late afternoon proceeding, AEG’s attorney Marvin Putnam stood in front of the judge wearing a broad smile, rocking confidently on the balls of his feet as if he already knew what the verdict would be.

AEG was found not liable—not negligent in the death of Michael Jackson. Thus ended a years-long legal battle between the entertainer’s last concert promoter and his family, who steadfastly believed that the company was complicit in hiring a doctor unfit to care for their most famous son.

In the deliberation room, the jury faced the daunting task of answering a list of 16 questions on their verdict form. The first five questions had to do with AEG’s association with Dr. Conrad Murray. Did AEG actually hire the doctor whom Jackson insisted be put on the payroll? Was Murray unfit to perform the services he was hired for? Did AEG know that and ignore the fact? Questions 6 through 16 had to do with damages that could be awarded to the family.

In the end, though, the jury only answered the first two questions, and then, as instructed, their deliberations ended there.

A court clerk read the jury response form on live television.

“Did AEG Live hire Dr. Conrad Murray? Answer: Yes.”

Question No. 2: “Was Dr. Conrad Murray unfit or incompetent to perform the work for which he was hired? Answer: No.”

When the jurors were polled in open court, it was revealed the decision was unanimous: 12 out of 12 voted in favor of AEG Live on both questions.

For the Jackson family, it meant no multibillion-dollar wrongful-death payout. The concert promoter was not negligent, the jury found, and the six men and six women on the panel were not convinced that AEG had any knowledge that Michael Jackson was an active drug abuser or that among Dr. Murray’s regular duties was to infuse Jackson with nightly doses of the hospital anesthesia Propofol.

Sitting in the second row of the courtroom was Murray’s lawyer, Valerie Wass, who gasped as the second question was read aloud. She is currently appealing the doctor’s 2011 conviction on involuntary manslaughter, and during interviews outside the courthouse she expressed gratitude at the jury finding.

Since Michael Jackson’s death, the executors of his estate have so adroitly managed the entertainer’s financial affairs that an estimated debt of $400 million has been replaced with a portfolio estimated to be worth between $600 million and $1 billion. Surely enough money to take care of the lifetime needs of Jackson’s three children—Prince, Paris, and Blanket—as well as their caretaker, his mother Katherine Jackson.

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That’s why it was so surprising when, in 2010, 83-year-old Katherine filed the wrongful-death suit on behalf of her three grandchildren. Even more surprising: it was widely reported that the Jackson family was seeking up to $40 billion from AEG, including $10 billion in lost earnings. (As some of the original allegations in the suit were dismissed by Judge Yvette Palazuelos the total possible award fell to about $2 billion.)

Katherine Jackson told the jury she filed the suit in an attempt to learn the truth about how her most famous son died. However, sources who have had close ties to the family believe the legal maneuver may have had more to do with Katherine’s desire to leave a nest egg of her own to her surviving children—especially her chronically underemployed sons. As the appointed guardian to Michael’s three kids, Katherine has lived quite comfortably on the monthly allowance granted her under the terms of her son’s will. In that document Michael Jackson specifically excluded his father and all his siblings from receiving any funds from his estate; it orders that Katherine’s allowance be reverted to his children upon their grandmother’s death.

If indeed the suit was a gamble by the Jackson matriarch to amass a sizable bank account of her own, it did not pay off. There is still, however, the possibility that the family will appeal the decision.

One Jackson family member who was not in court during the trial is Paris Jackson, the late entertainer’s daughter. A few weeks before the fourth anniversary of her father’s death Paris, 15, tried to commit suicide at the family home in Calabasas, Ca.

That was in early June. Sources close to the family tell The Daily Beast that Paris remains in a therapeutic boarding school somewhere out of state, perhaps in Utah. The teenager had been expressing a desire to see more of—and perhaps go live with—her biological mother, Debbie Rowe, who has a horse ranch in Palmdale, California, about an hour’s drive from the children’s Calabasas home. This caused a schism within the household, according to a family friend who did not want to be named in this delicate situation, as Paris’s older brother, Prince, wants nothing to do with his mother. Prince is not so forgiving of Rowe’s decision to give up her parental rights shortly after their births.

As difficult as the courtroom loss likely was for the elderly Katherine Jackson, what is to come may be even more painful. The Daily Beast has learned that later this month a court hearing is expected in Los Angeles Superior Court in which Debbie Rowe may be named as co-guardian to Paris Jackson.